(But I searched my post and I haven't. It will take several days to send you all of Murder on the Block, but I'll do it.)
Murder on the Block
Block Island, Rhode Island
Wednesday, October 22, 2003
It became his mantra as the power of his massive shoulders and muscular legs drove him through the surf and out deeper in the ocean.
He could have walked back to the house, all uphill, after throwing the empty tackle box and the pole without a reel and line off the rocks as far as he could. He could have walked back, still looking like a night fisherman, but he was frightened, more frightened than he’d ever been and more angry too. So he walked up the beach a ways and ditched the cheap slicker and boots he’d bought from the bald bigot in town. In the back of his frightened, angry mind, he had known from the beginning he would have to get rid of it all after driving the Lexus into the drop-off beside the familiar dirt road. The deep hole was hidden by brush, but that drunk idiot, Jonas, had slipped into it one of the nights they had walked down to the rocks to ‘fish’. Eli knew from pulling that stupid…stupid…stupid out that night in late September that the hole was deep enough to tip the SUV. He planned to ditch the newly bought disguise all along, but when the impact dragged him over on top of them, he was sure the props were a danger to keep. Still, he was a prudent man and hated to waste any money at all. But the box and pole and slicker and boots had to go.
He paused, treading the chill water, trying to see how far out he had gone. The stars and moon were his only lights and he couldn’t, at first, tell for sure where the land turned west and the bluffs began. If he kept swimming straight and didn’t head back toward the island, he would swim into oblivion. Eli considered it for a moment. Everything was going to unravel now. They would have to go home, back to warmer, bluer waters. He would leave now, if there was a way off the damn island in the middle of the night. He could steal a boat, he thought, staring east, and leave Jonas to deal with the fallout from his stupidity.
Then he saw the bluffs cutting off the night sky. He was 150 yards out, he reckoned. He could turn toward land now or swim into oblivion.
He dove down, knowing he was in very deep water. He did a breast stroke deeper and deeper, until his lungs were burning. Eli knew he wouldn’t drown himself, no matter what, not even now, so he stoked strongly back to the surface. Breathing deeply, treading water again, he realized he couldn’t ‘go home’—not now, not ever, not even after cleaning up Jonas’ stupid mess as best he could. No, Mon, he thought, feeling the cold numbing his muscles. I be runnin’ now. He had to swim again to burn out his fear and anger.
He lay exhausted and freezing on the narrow spit of sand beside the endless stairs up to the top of the bluffs. As he rested, breathing raggedly, shivering, it all came clear to him. They had been set up. Whoever it was they worked for had made sure they would take all the blame. His instincts had told him to leave the syringes and the medicine in the tiny vials and not to follow orders. He even told Jonas that was what they should do. But Jonas (stupid, stupid Jonas) got excited about the orders on the note.
“Here’s some real action, Mon,” stupid Jonas had said, his eyes shining from rum though it was early morning the day before. “Now we be talkin’, Mon.”
Eli had gone along, against what passed as his ‘better judgment’—he bought the cheap gear, drove the SUV left stupid Jonas alone with them too long while he hid the Lexus down a dead end three roads away. He remembered, lying on the beach, wishing he had kept swimming toward oblivion, that walking back to the house after hiding the car he had been tingling with fear. When he finally got back and saw the mess that stupid drunk had made…Jonas was so god-damned stupid!
Eli repeated the word over and over, once on each of the over 100 steps up to the top of the bluffs. He repeated it over and over and he made his way down the road toward the house, still dripping, caked in salt, so cold.
He thought about simply killing Jonas and leaving the next morning—taking all the money and the stuff they’d been skimming. But then he realized how far he’d have to run. But there would be one more drop—he knew it in his heart, could see the note as surely as if he held it in his hand. The greedy bastards that had set him up so brilliantly would have one more shipment—probably already on the way—before shutting the whole thing down until Jonas’ stupidity blew over. So he and Jonas would take both packages, more than enough to ‘get lost’ somewhere. That was his plan. Maybe he’d kill that stupid drunk and take it all. That was beginning to sound like a better plan.
When he opened the door to the house, Eli saw Jonas sprawled on the floor, passed out, a spilled bottle of rum laying beside him.
“Stupid….Stupid….Stupid….” Eli said out loud.
Wednesday, October 22, 2003—6:03 a.m.
Cecelia woke up and watched Richard sleeping.
She snuggled closer to him, her hip against his thigh, and felt his sleeping breath against her face. Nothing he could ever do would in any way diminish her love and devotion to him. He defined her life and was the source of her deepest joy. Just watching him sleep moved her deep within—touched her soul and thrilled her. Just that…Richard sleeping was almost enough to make her whole. He had worn her out last night, run her almost ragged. But morning had found her anxious for more.
Shifting slightly in the bed, she listened to the lonely calls of the red-winged blackbirds and the sweet, high songs of the finches feeding on the insects of dawn. And somewhere, at some distance, she could hear the irritable cry of Albert, the sea gull who spent the day complaining loudly from the roof of the house next door. Richard and all those bird sounds were nearly enough.
But not quite enough—she needed more and her need was greater than she could control. Quivering, her body against his, Cecelia’s mouth reached out for his. Tentatively at first, she tasted his breath, felt the warmth of him move through her body. More…she wanted more, she needed him so much she could hardly wait, so she licked his eyes and face and wagged her tail.
Richard smiled before he opened his eyes.
“Good morning, girl,” he said, sleepily. “Don’t want to sleep in?”
He scratched her ears and laughed out loud.
“OK, good dog,” he sang like a chant, “let’s get up and get out of here….”
Little did either of them know what was waiting a hundred yards away, down the dirt road toward Spring Street, nestled like a huge egg in a brush nest, white as an egg, but holding death, not potential life.
Father Lucas hoisted himself from bed and his half-Lab, half-Retriever dropped to the floor simultaneously. Both of them were ready for another day in the paradise that was Block Island. But time was running out. Within a quarter of an hour they would discover the trouble in paradise.
Richard wasn’t happy with his new running shoes. The left shoe tended to grab and irritate his heel, just to the left of center. Two pairs of socks helped, but not enough. Maybe there’s a rock, a twig, some sand, he thought, stopping a few strides down the dirt road that lead to Spring Street. He knelt in the mud left by the late October rains and fooled with his shoe. But his dog ran ahead and started barking inexplicably just around the turn.
Cecelia almost never barked—not at the deer or the turkeys or the tourists (most of them, God bless them, were mercifully gone now, leaving the island to the serious and the brave.) Just two weeks before, a couple of Jamaican who lived most of the year on the island—doing odd jobs, watching summer houses, helping at the docks—had gotten drunk and found their way into St. Anne’s always unlocked door to pass out. Cecelia had sniffed and whined at the door between the rectory’s dining room and the worship space while Richard boiled eggs and sliced melon. She’d run to him and back to the door time and again. She’d licked his bare knees and even nipped at his shorts, but she hadn’t barked, not once, not even with two unconscious, sweaty bodies splayed out only a few feet from the closed doors.
But now she was barking, barking like her dog-life depended on it, barking madly and running back and forth between the SUV turned over on the dirt road and Richard Lucas, newly widowed Episcopal priest, ready for his morning jog up Spring Street to Mohegan Drive and back across the hill to the little town for a coffee and a New York Times. Fr. Lucas was growing annoyed with Cecelia and her barking.
“Can’t you shut up?” he asked the dog as he fooled with his shoe. Cecelia responded with a low growl and a lick to Richard’s face that almost knocked him off balance.
“Jesus, Cel…” Richard muttered, then thinking, added “at least one of his friends….” And laughed to himself. Then the very worse thing that could have happen happened: Cecelia began her dance.
She had only done it once before, that morning sixteen months, two weeks and four days earlier when Cecelia, and then Richard, found Susan dead.
Sixteen months, two weeks and four days, Richard thought, stunned as the dog bounced back and forth unnaturally, almost like a cartoon dog, from her left legs to her right legs, then back again and then turning in a worried circle. The hours and minutes no longer came naturally to him. He had to think: just ten minutes or so. For over a year he had been able to compute automatically the time he had been alive without Susan. He had told only two people about it—his bishop and his psychiatrist—and both had been astonished and a little suspicious. Dr. Clarke had even kept notes and would ask him during a session—“How long now?”—and Richard could always tell her. He’d never been good with time or dates (“linear time confounds me,” was one of the little tag lines he’d developed over the years to explain how he didn’t remember what month, or sometimes even what year something had happened.) But since Susan died, some subconscious clock was constantly ticking, recording the passage of life without Susan. “LWS” he had started calling it to himself, but only once out loud because Laura Clarke had looked up quizzically when he said the initials. “Life without Susan”, Richard said, a bit embarrassed, and carefully avoided saying them after that. However, almost any time of any day, when something happened to make him think of her—the Saturday opera on the radio, a line of poetry, a sudden rainstorm…he never knew what it would be—Richard would “know” the months and weeks and days, not knowing how he knew them, and say them to himself, adding sadly and ironically, “LWS time.”
Now Cecelia was doing “the Dance of Death” again, spinning in the heavily pocked, muddy dirt road that ran from Spring Street past St. Anne’s to the four or five houses beyond, down on the beginnings of the cliffs that rose and soared a mile away at Mohegan Bluff. He had told dozens of people about Cecelia’s dance—never naming it as he did privately—as he, time and again, had to relive and tell of that awful morning. “She was like Lassie in the old TV show,” he would tell people who listened in rapt attentiveness since everyone secretly longs for all the details of death. “I laughed at her and said, ‘is something wrong with Timmy, girl?’ Then I followed her downstairs, still laughing, anxious to tell Susan what the dumb dog had done….” About then in his telling and retelling of the dog’s dancing antics, a shadow would pass over the face of whoever was listening. They realized that the next part would cause Richard great pain to tell—though they longed to hear it and, if the truth be known, he longed to tell it, as if telling it enough would make it ordinary, common and untrue. So they’d suddenly say something about how smart Cecelia was—which was a patent lie—or how animals have a “sixth sense” about such things and isn’t that amazing….Or else they’d realize they had an appointment or a call to make or someone coming to visit and find a way to escape. Those kindly, curious people thought they were sparing Richard remembered suffering. Little did they know he wanted to tell how he found his wife’s body enough to make it stop hurting so much.
“Cecelia, damn it!” Richard yelled into a moment in his mind of total silence. The birdsongs and the surf’s call and the screaming of the lone gull, Albert, had been drowned out by the emptiness of his memory. He tried to stand and stumbled, falling to his knees on the gravel and dirt. The pain of the fall brought him back. His dog bounced away, startled by an angry word from Richard. It only made her brain spin faster and she resumed her dance a yard further down the road.
It was a big white vehicle turned on its side in the ditch. That’s what the dog had seen, for Richard saw it as soon as he took the first turn and cleared the high brush that lined the one-lane road. He found himself laughing with relief. It’s only an SUV some half-drunk fisherman or half-high teenager had slid into the ditch, he thought. Enough to spook Cecelia, he thought, but nobody dead.
“It’s okay, girl,” he said, walking slowly toward his spinning dog. “Just a little island accident. Happens all the time. They’ll be coming for it soon.”
His soothing voice calmed Cecelia for a moment. But then she barked and ran toward the car, jumping up and putting her feet on the exposed undercarriage. Richard thought he’d have to bathe her if she got gunk from the bottom of a car all over her. Then she ran back and jumped up on him, leaving his legs and running shorts stained with grease and mud.
He could see the front of the SUV and noticed an insignia on the hood. He was never good about recognizing cars, but he thought it might be a Lexus. “Some parent is going to be pissed,” he thought to himself as he walked over to the left hand side of the road and noticed the objects he could see through the front window, leaning against the passenger side door. The sun was rising behind him and the windshield reflected orange and bright. He couldn’t quite make out what was in the car. His mind tried to place the shapes—two rolled up sleeping bags with soccer balls on them…soccer balls with something on top of them like the soccer ball in the Tom Hanks movie—what was it called? Of course, Castaway. That crazy ball that the Tom Hanks character made to look like a person—what did he call it? The name of the company…”Spalding”…no, “Wilson.”
Richard’s momentary pride in dredging that from his memory was canceled out by two rapid realizations: he and Susan had seen that movie together in the “pre-LWS time” and what he was looking at were two bodies, piled on each other by gravity when the SUV turned on its side.
Suddenly, he was running, bumping into sixty-five pounds of dog, almost falling, rushing to get to the car, hearing in a distance Cecelia’s bark and the cry of a seagull.
“Father Lucas,” someone was saying to him, “could you tell me what happened after that.”
Richard looked up at a young man in a uniform standing beside him. After Richard glanced around the room and realized he was sitting on the couch in St. Anne’s Rectory, he looked back at the police officer—that was the uniform, he was certain.
“What happened after what?” Richard said, so softly he had to repeat it again.
“After you realized there were people in the car and ran over to try to get them out,” the policeman said. He was in his late 20’s, Richard thought, with dark eyes, almost as black as his crew cut hair, an oval, deeply tanned face and a soft, understanding voice. He held a small, red spiral notebook and a white pen—a BIC, Richard thought, wondering how he knew that. The pin above his badge said “ALT, M”, which struck Richard as incomprehensible until he remembered the policeman had introduced himself as “Officer Malcolm Alt” about a half-an-hour ago.
Cecelia’s head was in Richard’s lap and there was grease and dirt on the dog and the couch.
“I’ll have to get this cleaned,” Richard said, to no one in particular.
“Mal,” someone said, stepping into Richard’s field of vision, “this obviously isn’t going to work. Maybe later.”
Officer Alt sighed and flipped his notebook closed. Stevenson Matthews insinuated his six and a half foot, bone thin frame between Richard and the arm of the couch. “Thanks, Mal,” Stevenson said in that patrician Boston accent Richard had come to know over the years. In his memory he saw Stevenson Matthews greeting him—him and Susan and their children, wild and not a little sea-sick—as they got off the ferry on Block Island for the first time.
(“You are, Father Lucas, I believe,” the tall man said, pronouncing Richard’s last name the way a Kennedy would—Lu-KAAS—and turning his hawk like face and gaze to Susan. “And you, I must say,” he went on without missing a beat, “are too lovely to have to be charming.”
“Keep that up,” Susan said, smiling mischievously, her children gathering around her, staring up at Stevenson, holding onto her legs, “and I’ll never leave this island.”
Stevenson laughed, throwing his head back, showing his perfect white teeth, his startlingly etched profile and shaking his salt and pepper, wind-blown, exquisitely cut hair.
“This is going to be more fun that I imagined,” Stevenson told Richard’s lovely and charming wife, smiling broadly at their three wild children running around just barely under control. The kids, as if knowing they were in the presence of an important adult, stood stock still and stared at him.
He made a sweeping motion with his long arms, as if embracing them and the island. “Welcome to the Block,” he said to the whole family.)
Stevenson wasn’t laughing as he squeezed onto the couch with Cecelia and Richard. His teeth were still perfect and his profile remarkable, but his hair was thinning and the white of mountain snow. And he was still, as he had been nearly 20 years before, the Senior Warden of St. Anne’s and one of the “powers that be” on the small island everyone called “The Block”.
“Not to worry about the couch,” he said, softly, to Richard. “Cecelia is guarding you well and needs to be here with you.”
Richard started brushing sand off the fabric, “I’m really sorry, Stevenson….”
“We know you are and not to worry,” he replied. “Dr. Weinstein is on his way though God knows he hasn’t practiced for a bit, but the best we can do on an island.”
“Dr. Weinstein owns the…the farm….” Richard managed.
“Precisely right, son,” Stevenson said, smiling enough to let the sun wrinkles deeply crease his long, thin face. “See, in spite of how you feel, your memory is fine. A bit of a shock though, I can only imagine, happening upon such a thing.”
“The people in the truck,” Richard began, “the man and woman, were they…are they….”
“Dead, I’m afraid,” Stevenson finished his sentence. “Won’t know why or how for sometime, I fear. But help is on the way. Are you hungry?”
Interestingly, Richard realized how very hungry he was. He and Cecelia were out of the Rectory at just after six, before he had anything to eat. And now, if his senses were normal and believable, it must be past noon. As at a great distance from the death less than a hundred yards away, Richard hungered—famished beyond words, longing to eat, wanting fat and protein and grains.
Surprisingly, because he didn’t notice that Stevenson had moved, Richard’s friend and Senior Warden was calling to him from the kitchen.
“Bacon and eggs and toast, how’s that sound?”
Richard thought he answered, but Stevenson asked again.
“Is that a breakfast you’d look forward to and enjoy?” he asked.
“Yes”, Richard thought and thought it again. Then he said it, twice, just to be safe…”Yes. Yes.” He heard and smelt the bacon in the pan before he wondered if he’s said, “thank you, Stevenson” or not.
At two in the afternoon, Richard was still sitting at the table in the Rectory. He’d eaten Stevenson’s bacon and eggs there and then an extra large fish and chips from the Captain’s Table that Stevenson’s middle-aged, Cuban-born housekeeper, Ofilia, had brought him for lunch. Somewhere in all of that he must have spoken with a third of the year-round members of Block Island’s community. People had been coming and going all day. Some of them had been willing to take Cecelia out for walks, though they all asked where her lead was since no one wanted to walk back down toward the Lexus SUV that was still in place, still the tomb of two bodies because the Rhode Island State Police had been contacted while Richard was still in some level of shock and requested—no, “demanded”—that nothing else be touched besides what the crazy Episcopal priest had already messed up, so that some semblance of a “crime scene” would be there for them and the Medical Examiner from Providence to survey. So Cecelia, whining and reluctant, had been walked a dozen times that day down toward the shore and away from the white van of death.
Other folks had brought him food, which he had dutifully covered with saran wrap or foil, and refrigerated. Others had brought strong drink—none of which he could have because Dr. Weinstein, 85 at the least and two decades retired on Block Island from his practice as an OBY-GYN in Boston, had prescribed and obtained some state of the medical arts sedatives that calmed Richard down without putting him to sleep. Most all the “islanders”, as the year-round folk called themselves, knew him in one way or another. He had been coming to Block Island for 20 years—since he was 35 and Susan was 32. A member of his parish in Worthington, Connecticut, was an “owner” on the island—as opposed to the “islanders” and the “tourists”—and knew that St. Anne’s was always looking for priests to come and minister to them. So William Crews had called Stevenson Matthews and those two good white men—both lawyers and bankers—had arranged for Richard and his family to spend three weeks on Block Island as a cheap vacation and the arrangement had lasted for 19 summers, until Susan died, dropping dead of an unexpected and finally explainable aneurysm in her kitchen one autumn morning. As Richard spent over a year in mourning and therapy seeking to deal with Life Without Susan, William Crews and Stevenson Matthews had been on the phone with each other and the Episcopal Bishops of both Connecticut and Rhode Island arranging for Fr. Lucas to spend and extended period—from September until May, at least, giving him time to regain his equilibrium and find himself again. After six weeks on the wind-blown island, it was working. Richard jogged/walked five miles every morning, ate well, went to the beach almost daily, had dinner with St. Anne’s parishioners and slept soundly. He could concentrate well enough to read for an hour at a stretch. The sojourn on Block Island had been just what Richard needed. No one could have known about the white Lexus SUV and the two dead bodies in it that would greet Richard one late October morning. No one could have predicted that—no one at all.
So, as no one could have predicted, Richard was sitting at the table in the Rectory—more food than he could ever eat in the refrigerator and more wine and whisky than he could have imagined sitting around the kitchen—when Sgt. Mara Coles of the Rhode Island State Police Special Crimes Unit came into his life.
“Father Lucas,” she said, “in an hour or so we need to talk.”
“You want to sit down?” Richard asked.
Mara smiled tightly and chose the chair across from him at the table. That was where Susan had always sat in the 20 years they’d been in that house for three weeks out of every year. Richard had sat with his back to the wall between the Rectory and the church—a wall with a framed print of some unknown painting of women and girls in long dresses on a beach somewhere, probably in the south of France. Susan had sat with her back to the kitchen of the small house. For years their children Jonah and Jeremy and Miriam had occupied the other chairs. As children would, they often chose to sit in different places. The first time the Lucas family sat at that table, the children were 10 and 8 and 6. The last seven years, in the last two weeks of June and the first week of July, Richard and Susan had begun the vacation alone. At some point during their annual stay at St. Anne’s, some collection of their brood, with significant others and, in the case of Jeremy, their middle child, a grandchild, would join them at that table.
Now it was just Richard—zoned out on Dr. Weinstein’s pills, freaked out by finding dead people in a van—with Mara Coles, a sergeant in the Rhode Island State Police.
“In an hour or so, I’ll be asleep,” Richard told her. “What’s the wait?”
Mara was tall, almost 5’10. She could have looked directly into Richard’s eyes if they’d been standing. Beneath her dark, well-cut suit and pale yellow silk blouse was the muscular, thin body of a distance runner—which she was—and her hair was shortly cropped and naturally blonde. She was wearing a slate gray suit so well cut that it must have been tailored. Fr. Lucas glanced down and noticed her black, leather flats—“sensible shoes” Susan would have called them—and her dark hose, containing well sculptured calves. His eyes drifted up from the floor and noticed her skirt stopped exactly at her knees—right in the middle of her knees, not above or below. Richard, woozy from his sedatives, wondered at her age—40, 35, 30—he had no idea. Finally focusing on Sgt. Coles’ face, her large eyes were, Richard thought, the gray of the North Atlantic in a storm. And they were as sad as gray, as unsettled as a storm, as ageless as the ocean. Her face was soft and round, with a straight, small nose, large, pouting lips and an unkind chin that kept her from being drop-dead beautiful.
“Dante isn’t here yet,” she said, almost whispering though Richard knew instinctively that was her natural voice. “Dante is the one you’ll have to talk to and he’s coming on the Ferry with his car. You won’t understand until you see it—the car, I mean. I flew over and did the crime scene. That I can do, what I can’t do is talk to you, ask you the questions we need to know about. I’m sure you understand.”
“You are too lovely,” Richard said, mellowed out by his drugs, “to have to be charming.”
Mara laughed. Her laugh was rich and lusty, full of fog and warmth and hope.
“I haven’t heard that line before,” she said, still giggling, “but it isn’t original.”
“No,” Richard said, more willing because of his trauma and drugs to speak the truth than normally. “That’s what Stevenson told Susan the first time he met her.”
Mara nodded. “Stevenson is the grand pooh-bah of this church and this island,” she said. “That much I know. But what I don’t know is who Susan is.”
Richard tried to focus on Mara’s face. The shock and drugs had taken their toll.
“Someone brought some good Scotch,” he said. “Look in the kitchen behind you if you’d like a drink.” He expected some conversation about “being on duty”, but instead she found two glasses and a bottle of Gynfylich. She’d finished one, as they sat and listened to the classical radio station Richard preferred when he wasn’t listening to AM “talk sports”. Then she winked one of her breathlessly gray eyes at him and nodded (“My Lord,” Richard would remember thinking, “a wink and a nod!”) and poured him some scotch, neat.
“It’ll help you sleep,” she said in her strange whisper of a voice.
“I’ll need it, I suspect,” he said, not yet slurring.
Just then someone knocked at the door. “Hello,” a distinctly fake English accent called, “may a humble physician enter?”
Mara smiled, “Dr. Jay,” she said, “come on in.”
A tall, stout man with thin brown hair combed straight back came in. He was looking around like he’d never been in a house before. “Mara, my love,” he said, now in an Hispanic accent, embracing her warmly as she stood up, “won’t you run away with me tonight? We can be in Mexico by morning.”
Richard noticed the man was wearing a motor cycle jacket and black leather chaps with boots garishly decorated with silver inlay. Mara introduced him to Richard.
“Dr. Anthony Jay,” the man said solemnly, no accent and shook Richard’s hand. “So sorry for your unpleasant day.”
“Thank you,” he replied, noticing that Dr. Jay had perhaps the worst set of teeth he had ever seen—crooked and broken and brown.
“Did you ride your motorcycle over, Tony?” Mara asked, smiling broadly.
“No, darlin’”, now it was a red-neck, mountain accent, “I was out ridin’ when I got the call to be flown over here in a State Police plane—cute littl’ thing—just big enough for a pilot, me and the two bodies to go home in….”
Dr. Jay shook Richard’s hand again, falling back into what must have been his normal voice and wishing the priest well. He then led Mara to the door and talked animatedly with her for a few minutes. Finally, she laughed so loud it startled Cecelia, asleep at Richard’s feet the whole time. The dog stood up and shook herself as the front door closed and Mara returned to the table, still laughing.
“Who is he?” Richard asked.
“The state Medical Examiner,” Mare replied, trying to compose herself. “He specializes in thorough autopsies and horribly bawdy jokes. I suspect he didn’t want to offend you with that one.”
“I couldn’t help noticing….” Richard began.
“The teeth,” Mara finished, giggling. “They’re fake. He has four different sets of them. Amuses him to shock people. Dante and I never mention it.”
“The Medical Examiner of the whole state…?”
“And a damn good one, if somewhat deranged…..”
Two drinks later, after talking and slurring non-stop to Mara about just about everything: the war against terrorism, the weather, the Red Sox and Yankees, the weather again, favorite TV shows and global warming, everything but Susan—Dante Caggiano arrived.
Richard couldn’t tell if all the chemicals and alcohol in his body were to blame, but his first view of Lt. Dante Caggiano was like a cartoon—he and Cecelia could have danced with Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd. The man moved entirely too fast and looked entirely too strange to be quite real. Suddenly the combination of sedatives and scotch caught up with him. Richard wasn’t sure he could open his mouth again, ever. He felt paralyzed, totally rigid and this little man—who looked like a miniature Al Pacino, except his hair was extremely curly (almost “nappy”, as southern belle Susan, unaware of political correctness, would have said) but wet-looking—was dancing around the room in double time, examining the books on the shelves, bending down to check the carpet, flitting from painting to painting on the walls, pouring himself a healthy scotch and finishing it off in one drink, smiling and winking at Sgt. Coles, complaining about the Ferry trip and how the dirt road had almost ruined his car, doing almost everything anyone could do within the confines of a small house without ever looking at Richard at all.
The Lieutenant was dressed all in black. The darkness of his dress made him look minimally taller than his true 5’7”. Richard thought Dante Caggiano dressed more like a priest than he ever did. His suit was black, with tiny gray stripes, obviously exquisitely tailored and terribly expensive. His heavily starched shirt was black. His tie was black. His socks and what Richard imagined were hand-made Italian loafers were black. The neatly folded and fluffed handkerchief in his jacket pocket was black. Even the cuff links that showed a standard inch beneath the sleeves of his double breasted jacket were black—like black pearls, tiny and costly. Richard was enough out of it to almost say, had he been able to open his mouth, “I’ve never seen anyone dressed like you.” But he couldn’t open his mouth, so he didn’t say it.
Finally, after pouring himself another scotch, Lt. Caggiano sat down at the end of the table where Richard was petrified and Mara was gently laughing and said, “Fr. Lucas, you’ve obviously been inspired by my beautiful partner into mixing drugs and drink and aren’t at your best. But I’d really like to see the church.”
Mara helped Richard stand up and guided him toward the double doors between the Rectory and the Sanctuary of St. Anne’s. She was smiling at him as she supported his staggering walk, wrapping one arm around his waist and guiding him by his shoulder with her other hand.
“You may have noticed that brilliant Mara and I do not seem to avoid drinking on the job, something most detective novels would tell you was forbidden,” Lt. Caggiano was saying, as if through amber, as Richard commanded his legs to move. Cecelia had left her long nap on the couch and was sniffing the policeman’s crotch. Dante did not seem to notice and kept talking.
“But we are not your average police persons,” he was saying. “We are the finest team Rhode Island will ever know….And, as I think of it, Mara, dear, we should put the good Padre to bed and see the church tomorrow. You and I will stay here tonight, just as our new best friend Stevenson Matthews suggested. We’ll doubtless drink more of that good whisky and talk over our case, such as it is. So, pleasant dreams, dear priest….”
Mara was giggling as she guided Richard down the hall to the master bedroom. “He’s the case,” she whispered, laying him on the bed. “I’ll take the dog out, if she’ll go with me, and then let her back here with you. You need someone to sleep with tonight, I think.”
All of which, Richard later thought, he may have made up out of whole cloth. After all, he’d been through quite enough, hoisting himself up onto an overturned Lexus SUV, bloodying his hands prying the door up and open and plunging, like a scuba-diver into the car, carried by gravity into the strange embrace of a man and a woman, both of whom were obviously dead. Lying tangled in their limbs—that tall, thin man, probably in his sixties, though well-preserved in spite of being dead and that short, middle-aged woman with long brown hair and open, vacant, staring green eyes—Richard experienced a vertigo he had known only once before: the morning Susan died.
His adroit mind went suddenly blank. As a priest, he had seen many more dead people than most other folks would ever see, but he’d never been lying on top of two corpses, wondering how to find his way back up and out of an overturned car. That these two people were dead was obvious to him. That he was still alive was the harder question. The only thing that made that real was the insistent barking of his dog. Cecelia’s lament came to him through fog and fear. He heard it as at a great distance, but it kept him climbing out of that place of death though something powerful was willing him to stay.
What he didn’t remember was how he got out of the SUV. Later he would learn from Mara that he had left trace evidence from his troublesome running shoes all over the bodies of Dr. Michael Johnson and Dr. Malinda Spencer. Obviously, he had planted his feet on their shoulders, faces, hips to propel himself upward and out of the car so he could go back to St. Anne’s and phone 911. But none of that came back to him when he awoke—stunned and still a little stiff from drug and drink—late in the night. What he did remember was that he had talked for a long time to an almost beautiful woman. He had talked to her longer, and with more energy than he had talked to any woman since Susan died.
He only wished he could remember her name.
The other thing he noticed, waking up in darkness, besides Cecilia’s body against his side and the dog’s loud and raucous snoring, was that he was wearing only his boxer shorts and tee shirt. His running shorts were gone, along with his Block Dog sweat shirt, his ill-fitting running shoes and socks. Someone had undressed him in his sleep. He was both embarrassed and a bit—just a bit—stimulated knowing a beautiful woman had taken off most of his clothes.
If only he could remember her name. He tried, slipping away.
While Richard slept, fitfully as it was, Dante and Mara sat at the table and consumed, between them, half a bottle of 18 year old Scotch.
“So, is he a suspect?” Mara asked at some point before 2 a.m., when Dante was waiting for Brooks to come and pick him up so she could go to one of the guest rooms and get some sleep.
Dante sat totally, incredibly still. After eight years of working with him, Mara still marveled at both his kinetic, constant movement during the day and his almost catatonic late night posture.
He looked up at her, almost smiling. “Isn’t everyone?”
Then they both looked up because a surge of noise was descending on them from above.
“I need something to read,” Dante said, prancing around the living room and settling on a large book from a table. “Let us pray that Brooks, unlike us, hasn’t been in the Scotch tonight.”
“Brooks?” Mara replied. “Give me a break….Have a good trip.” She crossed the room and handed him a kitchen glass in a zip-lock bag.
“Doubtless,” Dante said, heading for the door in double time. Before he closed it he looked back at Mara with something bordering on affection, “and have a good night’s sleep. One of us should.”
The two detectives smiled at each other, much as they had for much of their eight years together. And Dante left.
Mara sat alone at the table for a while. She panned through the cable stations on the island with the sound too low to really hear, though she was relatively sure that if a helicopter didn’t wake Fr. Lucas, a TV set wouldn’t. She thought for a moment about him: he was not a big man, though she could tell from his face and his limbs when she undressed him that he was used to carrying more weight. His thinness was not quite natural—something was draining him away. His face was unremarkable but etched with memory and pain and creased with laugh marks. He was a man who had laughed a lot, smiled a lot, but was burdened now, struggling to find humor and joy. His longish hair was brown, turning gray. There was something substantial about him that was only in his eyes. When she was taking off his sweatshirt, his eyes opened and gazed into hers: they were brown, green, probably sometimes almost blue and, at least to her, had seen both wonder and suffering.
She walked down the hallway and looked into his room. In the shadows she could see he had turned onto his stomach and was snoring lightly. The dog was pressed against him. Mara liked men who liked dogs. It was in the early morning and he was stirring a bit. She left him there and went to bed to sleep for a few hours.
(Richard dreamed: Cecelia was dancing before him. He was in stocking feet and naked. He followed the dog down long, dark hallways to a bright place and found Susan on the floor. He pulled her into his arms and breathed into her mouth, willing her to life. But the more he breathed, the smaller she became, deflating like a balloon in spite of his breath blowing into her, until he was holding something light as silk and just as unsubstantial. In his dream, his eyes were burning and filled with fluid as he looked up and saw the dog, dancing, dancing, dancing….Like most of these dreams, even when he wasn’t saturated with drugs and alcohol, Richard would not remember it in the morning.
Mara dreamed, fitfully and for only a short while: She was flying in a plane across ice and frozen sea. Then the plane began to disintegrate and in a moment she was flying alone, just above the chill and ice. She flew and flew, almost skimming the ice. She was so afraid she could not speak, not even in her dream, and nothing else happened—just the ice and the flying and the chill enveloping her heart—until she dropped into a deep, profound blackness where dreams could not be remembered.
Cecelia dreamed, as only dogs do, clearly and absolutely: She was chasing something through a field, across a shallow stream, into a wooded area. She was running, running, running….Just that, running, closing in on her prey. At some point in the night, Richard bumped against her, getting out of bed and going to the bathroom. This behavior, she knew. When she felt his warmth near her again, she dropped back into sleep and dreams of running, running, running….Who could say whether she remembered those dream when she awoke or not?)